Itadakimasu and Gochisou Sama Deshita/「いただきます」と「ごちそうさまでした」

Japanese Food

In present Japan, it is customary to say Itadakimasu before having a meal and Gochisou sama deshita or Gochisou sama (less polite) after having a meal. The important thing to remember is that these phrases are considered forms of greeting in Japanese, so it’s hard not to say them if you are with someone else when eating. Even if you are alone, you can or may want to say them to yourself.

There is surprisingly little reliable information as to how this nationwide custom got started. I found three sites that sound plausible, of which this one (Japanese only) is the most detailed.

I can never be sure, but I think it is safe to say the following:

The phrases “Itadakimasu” and “Gochisou sama deshita”, as well as similar expressions, existed before the Taisho period (1912-1926), but saying them before and after a meal was not a nationwide custom.  The custom spread gradually in the Taisho period to the early Showa period (1926 and after), when the hakozen*1 was replaced by the chabudai*2, and became nationwide due to school education after World War II.

*1 A hakozen (lit. box table) is a wooden box used to contain a rice bowl, a soup bowl, a pair of chopsticks, plates, etc. When turned upside down, the lid served as a tray. It was used from the Edo period to the Meiji period (1868-1912). Everyone had their own hakozen.
A photo of a hakozen can be found here.
Other photos
Results of a Google image search for hakozen

*2 A chabudai is a low table invented around the 20s of the Meiji period (1887). In contrast to the hakozen, everyone sat at the single chabudai. It became popular throughout the country in the late 1920s.  It was replaced by a dining table in and after 1960.
Results of a Google image search for chabudai

Note:  Whether to put your hands together before saying Itadakimasu (and Gochisou sama deshita)
Access the first site linked to, and scroll down until you see a map of Japan.
The black square indicates a place where the people responded they put their hands together.
The black-and-white square indicates a place where some people responded they do and others responded otherwise.
The white square indicates a place where the people responded they make a bow or do something else (put their hand on their laps?).
For example, at my children’s elementary school, located in Niigata, students are taught to put their hands together before saying Itadakimasu and Gochisou sama deshita.

Edited to add:

Note 2: Suppose you are in a restaurant with someone else, and your order comes first and you want to start having it immediately, what should you say to your companion?  Say “Osakini itadakimasu”.  Your companion will say things like, “Dozo, dozo”.

Note 3:  Other phrases considered forms of greetings in Japanese include:

Ittekimasu (said before leaving home)
Itterasshai (said to someone leaving home)
Tadaima (said when returning home)
Okaeri nasai or Okaeri (less polite) (said to someone returning home)

When you enter a restaurant, the staff will say, “Irasshaimase”.





*1 箱膳とは、蓋付きの木製の箱で、その中にお茶碗、お椀、箸、お皿などを入れました。蓋を逆さにして、お膳として使いました。江戸時代から明治時代(1868~1912年)に使われました。各自が自分の箱膳を持っていました。

*2 ちゃぶ台とは、明治20年代頃(1887年頃)発案された低いテーブルのことです。箱膳とは異なり、みんなが一つのちゃぶ台に向かって座りました。1920年代後半に全国的に使われるようになりました。1960年以降ダイニングテーブルへと変わりました。

注: いただきます(ごちそうさまでした)を言う前に手を合わせるかどうか。


注2: お店に誰かと一緒に行ったとして、自分の注文した料理が先に来て、それをすぐ食べ始めたい場合は、相手に何て言ったらいいでしょうか?「お先にいただきます」と言って下さい。相手は「どうぞ、どうぞ」などと答えるでしょう。

注3: 下記も、日本語では挨拶言葉と考えられいます。



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